Posts Tagged ‘ Manhattan ’

Occupy: Out of Zuccotti Park And Into The Streets

By Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post

Occupy Wall Street may not occupy Zuccotti Park anymore, but it refuses to surrender its place in the national discourse. Up close, you get the sense that the movement may have only just begun.

Demonstrators staged a “day of action” Thursday, following the eviction of their two-month-old encampment this week. The idea was, well, to occupy Wall Street in a literal sense — to shut down the financial district, at least during the morning rush hour.

For the most part, it didn’t work. Entrances to some subway stations were blocked for a while, and traffic was more of a mess than usual. But police turned out in force, erecting barricades that kept protesters from getting anywhere near their main target, the New York Stock Exchange. Captains of commerce may have been hassled and inconvenienced, but they weren’t thwarted.

There was some pushing and shoving, resulting in a few dozen arrests. Coordinated “day of action” protests were held in other cities. They did not change the world.

A big failure? No, quite the opposite.

Lower Manhattan was swarming not just with demonstrators and police but with journalists from around the world — and with tourists who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A small, nonviolent protest had been amplified into something much bigger and more compelling, not by the strength of its numbers but by the power of its central idea.

There is a central idea, by the way: Our financial system has been warped to serve the interests of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else.

Is this true? I believe the evidence suggests that it is. Others might disagree. The important thing is that because of the activism of the Occupy Wall Street protests — however naive, however all-over-the-map — issues of unfairness and inequality are being discussed.

This is a conversation we haven’t been having for the past 30 years. For politicians — and those who pay lavishly to fund their campaigns — the discussion is destabilizing because it does not respect traditional alignments. For example, white working-class voters are supposed to be riled up against Democrats for policies such as affirmative action and gun control. They’re not supposed to get angry with Republicans for voting to bail out the banks and then flatly ruling out the idea of relief on underwater mortgages.

How people feel about fairness — the 1 percent at the top versus the other 99 percent — has nothing to do with how they feel about limiting abortion or banning assault weapons. It has nothing to do with whether people think racism is a thing of the past or a continuing scourge. Fairness can’t be dismissed as some sort of first step toward socialism, unless we’re willing to concede that capitalism and fairness are fundamentally incompatible. I don’t believe this is the case. Maybe some of the Occupy protests’ most vocal opponents would like to disagree.

In Midtown Manhattan, many blocks from Zuccotti Park, famously jaded New Yorkers were eager to talk about Occupy Wall Street. Buttonholing people at random, I found a lot of support for the decision by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) to clear the park of tents, sleeping bags and other appurtenances of a permanent settlement. But I also found a lot of agreement with the protesters — even if not everyone had the same idea about just what the protesters were saying.

“Yeah, they were talking a lot of crazy stuff, some of them,” said Ramon Henriquez, owner of a limousine company, who was idling on Central Park South behind the wheel of one of his cars. “Some of them, when they’d do that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about socialism. I didn’t like that at all. But I liked what they said about the banks.”

He remembered one Occupy speaker asking what would happen if every homeowner decided to skip a month on the mortgage, instead putting the money in escrow — just to get the banks’ attention. “You saw what happened with the debit-card fee,” he said, referring to Bank of America’s abandoned attempt to squeeze new revenue out of account holders. “They listened because they had to listen.”

The erstwhile occupiers of Zuccotti Park swear that they aren’t going anywhere — that they’ll get back into the park one way or another. But they’ve done something more important: They’ve gotten into people’s heads.

For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act

By Anne Barnard for The New York Times

Not everyone in the Cairo lecture hall last February was buying the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s message. As he talked of reconciliation between America and Middle Eastern Muslims — his voice soft, almost New Agey — some questioners were so suspicious that he felt the need to declare that he was not an American agent.

Muslims need to understand and soothe Americans who fear them, the imam said; they should be conciliatory, not judgmental, toward the West and Israel.

But one young Egyptian asked: Wasn’t the United States financing the speaking tour that had brought the imam to Cairo because his message conveniently echoed United States interests?

“I’m not an agent from any government, even if some of you may not believe it,” the imam replied. “I’m not. I’m a peacemaker.”

That talk, recorded on video six months ago, was part of what now might be called Mr. Abdul Rauf’s prior life, before he became the center of an uproar over his proposal for a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. He watched his father, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in 1960s New York; led a mystical Sufi mosque in Lower Manhattan; and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, became a spokesman for the notion that being American and Muslim is no contradiction — and that a truly American brand of Islam could modernize and moderate the faith worldwide.

In recent weeks, Mr. Abdul Rauf has barely been heard from as a national political debate explodes over his dream project, including, somewhere in its planned 15 stories, a mosque. Opponents have called his project an act of insensitivity, even a monument to terrorism.

In his absence — he is now on another Middle East speaking tour sponsored by the State Department — a host of allegations have been floated: that he supports terrorism; that his father, who worked at the behest of the Egyptian government, was a militant; that his publicly expressed views mask stealth extremism. Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas. In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a United States agent.

Growing Up in America

Mr. Abdul Rauf, 61, grew up in multiple worlds. He was raised in a conservative religious home but arrived in America as a teenager in the turbulent 1960s; his father came to New York and later Washington to run growing Islamic centers. His parents were taken hostage not once, but twice, by American Muslim splinter groups. He attended Columbia University, where, during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and Arab states like Egypt, he talked daily with a Jewish classmate, each seeking to understand the other’s perspective.

He consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy — or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country’s Constitution — have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews — so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.

“To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James P. Morton, of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

Since 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf, like almost any Muslim leader with a public profile, has had to navigate the fraught path between those suspicious of Muslims and eager to brand them as violent or disloyal and a Muslim constituency that believes itself more than ever in need of forceful leaders.

One critique of the imam, said Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, was that he had not been outspoken enough on issues “near and dear to many Muslims,” like United States policy on Israel and treatment of Muslims after 9/11, “because of the need that he has had — whether taken upon himself or thrust upon him — to be the ‘American imam,’ to be the ‘New York imam,’ to be the ‘accommodationist imam.’ ”

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University, said Mr. Abdul Rauf’s holistic Sufi practices could make more orthodox Muslims uncomfortable, and his focus on like-minded interfaith leaders made him underestimate the uproar over his plans.

“He hurtles in, to the dead-center eye of the storm simmering around Muslims in America, expecting it to be like at his mosque — we all love each other, we all think happy thoughts,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“Now he has set up, unwittingly, a symbol of this growing tension between America and Muslims: this mosque that Muslims see as a symbol of Islam under attack and the opponents as an insult to America,” he added. “So this mild-mannered guy is in the eye of a storm for which he’s not suited at all. He’s not a political leader of Muslims, yet he now somehow represents the Muslim community.”

Andrew Sinanoglou, who was married by Mr. Abdul Rauf last fall, said he was surprised that the imam had become a contentious figure. His greatest knack, Mr. Sinanoglou said, was making disparate groups comfortable. At the wedding, he brought together Mr. Sinanoglou’s family, descended from Greek Christians thrown out of Asia Minor by Muslims, and his wife’s conservative Muslim father.

“He’s an excellent schmoozer,” Mr. Sinanoglou said of the imam.

Mr. Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait. His father, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, graduated from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of mainstream Sunni Muslim learning. He was one of many scholars Egypt sent abroad to staff universities and mosques, a government-approved effort unlikely to have tolerated a militant. He moved his family to England, studying at Cambridge and the University of London; then to Malaysia, where he eventually became the first rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

As a boy, Feisal absorbed his father’s talks with religious scholars from around the world, learning to respect theological debate, said his wife, Daisy Khan. He is also steeped in Malaysian culture, whose ethnic diversity has influenced an Islam different than that of his parents’ homeland.

In 1965, he came to New York. His father ran the Islamic Center of New York; the family lived over its small mosque in a brownstone on West 72nd Street, which served mainly Arabs and African-American converts. Like his son, the older imam announced plans for a community center for a growing Muslim population — the mosque eventually built on East 96th Street. It was financed by Muslim countries and controlled by Muslim diplomats at the United Nations — at the time a fairly noncontroversial proposition. Like his son, he joined interfaith groups, invited by Mr. Morton of St. John the Divine.

Hostage Crisis

Unlike his son, he was conservative in gender relations; he asked his wife, Buthayna, to not drive. But in 1977, he was heading the Islamic Center in Washington when he and Buthayna were taken hostage by a Muslim faction; it was his wife who challenged the gunmen on their lack of knowledge of Islam.

“My husband didn’t open his mouth, but I really gave it to them,” she told The New York Times then.

Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Abdul Rauf studied physics at Columbia. At first, he recalled in interviews last year, it was hard to adjust to American social mores. By 1967, he and a Yale student, Kurt Tolksdorf, had bonded at summer school over their shared taste in women and fast cars. But Mr. Tolksdorf said his friend never subscribed to the “free love” of the era.

When the 1967 war broke out in the Middle East, Mr. Tolksdorf said, Mr. Abdul Rauf reacted calmly when Israeli students tried to pick a fight. A classmate, Alan M. Silberstein, remembers debating each day’s news over lunch.

“He was genuinely trying to understand the interests of American Jews — what Israel’s importance was to me,” he said. “There was a genuine openness.”

In his 20s, Mr. Abdul Rauf dabbled in teaching and real estate, married an American-born woman and had three children. Studying Islam and searching for his place in it, he was asked to lead a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah. It was one of few with a female prayer leader, where women and men sat together at some rituals and some women do not cover their hair. And it was 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Divorced, he met his second wife, Ms. Khan, when she came to the mosque looking for a gentler Islam than the politicized version she rejected after Iran’s revolution. Theirs is an equal partnership, whether Mr. Abdul Rauf is shopping and cooking a hearty soup, she said, or running organizations that promote an American-influenced Islam.

A similar idea comes up in the video of his visit to Cairo this year. Mr. Abdul Rauf, with Ms. Khan, unveiled as usual, beside him, tells a questioner not to worry so much about one issue of the moment — Switzerland’s ban on minarets — saying Islam has always adapted to and been influenced by places it spreads to. “Why not have a mosque that looks Swiss?” he joked. “Make a mosque that looks like Swiss cheese. Make a mosque that looks like a Rolex.”

In the 1990s, the couple became fixtures of the interfaith scene, even taking a cruise to Spain and Morocco with prominent rabbis and pastors.

Mr. Abdul Rauf also founded the Shariah Index Project — an effort to formally rate which governments best follow Islamic law. Critics see in it support for Taliban-style Shariah or imposing Islamic law in America.

Shariah, though, like Halakha, or Jewish law, has a spectrum of interpretations. The ratings, Ms. Kahn said, measure how well states uphold Shariah’s core principles like rights to life, dignity and education, not Taliban strong points. The imam has written that some Western states unwittingly apply Shariah better than self-styled Islamic states that kill wantonly, stone women and deny education — to him, violations of Shariah.

After 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf was all over the airwaves denouncing terrorism, urging Muslims to confront its presence among them, and saying that killing civilians violated Islam. He wrote a book, “What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America,” asserting the congruence of American democracy and Islam.

That ample public record — interviews, writings, sermons — is now being examined by opponents of the downtown center.

Those opponents repeat often that Mr. Abdul Rauf, in one radio interview, refused to describe the Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas, as a terrorist organization. In the lengthy interview, Mr. Abdul Rauf clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: “Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,” and, “I am a supporter of the state of Israel.”

“If I were an imam today I would be saying, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ” said John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. “ ‘Can an imam be critical of any aspect of U.S. foreign policy? Can I weigh in on things that others could weigh in on?’ Or is someone going to say, ‘He’s got to be a radical!’ ”

Why The Mosque Needs To Be Built At Ground Zero

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

This is already my third article on the NYC Mosque controversy. When I started my Facebook group and website Pakistanis for Peace by the same name nearly two years ago, I did it in response to the tragic and callous terrorist attacks in Mumbai India in 2008 and my desire to see peace in that region and beyond. As a firm believer in God, but not a particularly religious person, I never would have imagined that I would end up making a big part of my focus not just peace between India and Pakistan, but also peace and understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds as well. Heaven knows I have my own questions and issues with certain Muslim laws and practices and I of all people am the least suitable to be one of its defenders. However, I am a strict constitutionalist and as mentioned in my previous articles on this subject, I have advocated the building of the mosque simply on First Amendment religious freedom grounds.

Now here I am in less than one month, I find myself already writing a third article on the mosque controversy. Much has been written already by others on this topic also, but I wanted to give a few more opinions from a rational, moderate and patriotic American Muslim perspective, one which is missing in the current dialogue.

We know that many people who are opposed to the building of the mosque in lower Manhattan simply ask “Why there?” “Why would “they” possibly want to build it there of all places? It is seen as an affront by them that Muslims should want to build an inter-faith mosque, community center and a planned outreach ministry in the heart of Manhattan two city blocks from the site of the World Trade Center and the attacks of September 11, nine year ago. In fact, last night, while watching CNN, I saw Rick Sanchez ask former Governor George Pataki of New York about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy and his views on the subject. “Why there of all places would you build a mosque?” asked Gov. Pataki.  Why there?  As if he had fully bought into a favorite point of right wing groups that “Muslims build mosques at places they conquer” and that this is somehow a celebration of their “victory” over us because of the deaths of so many of our fellow countrymen on 9/11. That statement is wrong on so many levels that normally I would not even waste energy answering a clearly misguided assumption, but I will make an exception to clear the air as that is precisely what this article aims to do.

First of all, the 9/11 attacks were not a result of the actions of mainstream Muslims or the collective billion plus adherents of the religion but instead by members of a terror group known as Al-Qaeda, whose leader, Osama Bin Laden, we were very familiar and friendly with during the Soviet Afghan War of the 1980’s as he had assisted us in stopping the Red Army from conquering Afghanistan at the height of the Cold War between the two superpowers. Also a mosque is a place of worship. It is not a place where bombs are made and terrorists are trained either in ideology or practical training. To equate the building of a mosque to a direct link to terrorism or some other nefarious activity is in itself a deeply offensive argument to any Muslim, if one must speak of insensitivities.

So are we at war with Islam? This really is the only question we must ask ourselves to understand the debate over the mosque controversy. Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, issued a statement saying that “Building a 15-story mosque at Ground Zero is a deliberately provocative act.” This is simply not true as it is not exclusively just a mosque, but rather a multi layered structure that will house an auditorium, restaurant, gymnasium, library, conference rooms and multi-faith prayer halls devoted to allowing non-Muslim visitors the chance to come explore the center and at the same time take time to meditate and pray according to their own customs.

The center, as its leader Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf pointed out recently, “will establish this community as the place where the moderate Muslim voice condemns terrorism and works for new, peaceful, and harmonious relationships with all New Yorkers and indeed all Americans.” Just the fact that this center will have a restaurant, conference rooms, a library and multi-faith dialogue and prayer rooms, already makes this proposed building the most uniquely American mosque in the world. Nowhere else will one find a mosque so devoted to understanding and bridge building between Islam and other religions and no other place and location will it be more sorely needed in the years to come than in New York City! Too often, many non-Muslims complain about the self segregation practices of Muslims and indeed a characteristic of all minority communities to be in their own bubble and for not having a lot of interaction between other communities or faiths.

Many times my own non-Muslim friends have been curious and inquired on how Muslims pray and what they believe in and what exactly goes on in a typical mosque. But typically a small, regular mosque does not have the sort of access and resources to satisfy this curiosity and neither the infrastructure nor the logistics to handle curious visitors of other faiths. Primarily mosques in this country have been built with Muslims as its sole audience and occupants. This is the first time a mosque and cultural center is being proposed that will eliminate the barriers that many non-Muslims feel when it comes to understanding Islam and Muslims and actually takes into considerations its non-Muslim visitors when planning the structure. For many years to come, many Americans and indeed tourists from around the world will be coming to the proposed complex now under construction at the site of the World Trade Centers that will house the 9/11 Memorial. What better place  will there be than a few blocks away from the 9/11 Memorial where visitors can be told about the Islam of the great boxer Muhammed Ali and hall of fame basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar and not that of evil individuals such as Mohammed Atta and Osama Bin Laden? Where else should they be told of the difference between the Islam that is practiced by comedian Dave Chappelle and Oprah’s Dr Mehemt Oz versus the one practiced by the backward barbarian murderers known as the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan? Where else can they come to know of the type of Islam practiced by patriotic Bronze Star and Purple Heart decorated deceased US soldier Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan or the one practiced by the deranged Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused perpetrator of the Fort Hood Army base who sadly killed 13 fellow soldiers almost 1 year ago?

Now in order to satisfy the opponents and critics of the center, I also believe that all the funding needs to be transparent, there needs to be a multi-faith board of directors, and the Muslim leadership needs to be cognizant that this is indeed a very special place for all Americans and a place of national mourning. This mosque needs to therefore address the attacks of 9/11 and also needs to be a reminder not just to non-Muslims of the tragedy that was 9/11 but more importantly it needs to  serve as a constant reminder to the rest of the Muslim world of the terrible actions some have committed in the name of Islam.

Why build it here of all places you may still ask? Why not here? What other place in America, nay, what other place in the world did Islam take the biggest blow to its reputation and image? It is Ground Zero and lower Manhattan itself where this religion of over a billion people got literally hijacked and its message of peace and tolerance got forever destroyed in the eyes of the world’s non-Muslims by events of 9/11 and the actions of a handful of radical extremists who were terrorists and part of a network known as Al-Qaeda. So, why not build a monument to tolerance and understanding for the very religion that took the biggest hit to its global credibility by events that happened in this area?  I believe that it is not out of any provocation or insensitivities that Muslims want to build a community center near Ground Zero, but rather because this is the one place in the world where truth about the religion needs to be told and the need to showcase the real Islam of the world’s Muslims rather than allow the story of the hatred and violence perpetrated by the terrorists to be the only story one hears when discussing the religion of Islam. This center needs to be a part of the healing process we must go through as a nation and will be a testament for the rest of the Muslim world outside our shores of the grandeur of our nation and for our acceptance of Muslims and for not allowing the stereotyping of a religion of hundreds of millions of people over the actions of 19 evildoers. 

Trust me, the terrorists will triumph if this mosque does not get built.  We must not forget who we’re fighting against, and what we are indeed fighting for. The Taliban, the terrorists and other radical Islamists do not respect religious freedom or tolerance. Their distorted and narrowly interpreted Wahhabi views of Islam leave no room for dissent, debate or disagreements. These terrorists are responsible for more deaths of dissenting and or differing Muslims than of any other religion at their hands. These terrorists are Islam’s biggest enemy and threat and we must remember that this is not a war between us and the Muslim world. It is a war between us and Al-Qaeda. And to prevent moderate, peace seeking, bridge building, and patriotic American Muslims from building a structure that will help ease the pain and misunderstanding of the events of that dark day 9 years ago in September will only play into the hands of those who hate us for our freedoms. To have Muslim Americans potentially lose these very freedoms due to all the pressure, in this land built on freedom and liberty, will only strengthen the hands of the terrorists and bolster their claims that this is truly a war on Islam and that they are second class citizens who do not even have the fundamental rights to worship that is afforded to all Americans. This is a battle for Islam itself, one where the forces of evil are attempting to commandeer the entire religion towards their narrow minded interpretation of the sacred texts. We must hold steadfast to our principles and ideals and support moderate Islam in taking back the religion from the extremists and allowing this mosque to be built will go a long ways in turning the tide of radicalism, and ensuring that we stand for our time tested principles, no matter how unpopular they may be in the current climate.

-Manzer Munir, founder of Pakistanis for Peace, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a freelance journalist that writes for PakistanisforPeace.com and other publications.

Mayor Bloomberg on Mosque: ‘A Test of Our Commitment to American Values’

As Reported By The Wall Street Journal

In a speech at a Ramadan Iftar dinner at Grace Mansion Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered an extended defense of the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. Those who say the center should not be built “would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom,” the mayor said. “There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.”

Below, the full transcript of Bloomberg’s prepared remarks.

Good evening, and Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.

We call this ‘The People’s House,’ because it belongs to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. People of every race and religion, every background and belief. We celebrate that diversity here in this house with gatherings like this.

And for me, whether it’s marking St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.

America is a nation of immigrants, and no place opens its doors more widely to the world than New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New York City. America is beacon of freedom, and no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.

In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.

There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back – stronger than ever – as a symbol of our defiance and we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.

But if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.

We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam – we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.

At this very moment, there are young Americans – some of them Muslim – standing freedoms’ watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, has children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. I’d like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. Thank you.

The members of our military are men and women at arms – battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have always inspired people around the world. But if we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad – if we do not lead by example – we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.

In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. He said, ‘The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.’

We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. All of us must do our part.

Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism – that is the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.

I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.

But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?

This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.

I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it is worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country the government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.

Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.

Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements he has made. And that’s how it should be – this is New York.

And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’

In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.

By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world. Thank you.

Mosque Near Ground Zero Divides Sept. 11 Relatives

By Samantha Gross for The Associated Press

Talat Hamdani traveled to Mecca to pray that her missing son, an EMT, was safe in the days after 9/11. She held out hope that his Muslim background had led to his detention as a suspect, considering it better than the alternative.

When part of his body was returned to her — his lower half shattered into 34 pieces — it was final proof he had indeed been killed when Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center. As Americans take sides over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks away, Hamdani says it feels personal.

“Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized? Our loved ones died,” she said at her Lake Grove, N.Y., home. “America was founded on the grounds of religious freedom,” and opposition to the cultural center “is un-American. It’s unethical. And it is wrong.”

The thousands of relatives of the 2,976 victims have no single representative and no unified voice, even as another 9/11 anniversary approaches. The conflict is dividing a group that in many ways has never been united, with some saying the cultural center would reopen old wounds too close to hallowed ground and others saying that opposing it is tantamount to bigotry.
And some, like Vandna Jain, walk a middle ground.

“It is unfair to persecute the group, however, in turn, there should be some respect for the feelings of the people that are forever attached to this site due to their losses,” the New City, N.Y., resident, whose father, Yudh, died in the north tower, wrote in an e-mail. “I think people have a right to be upset about it, just as much as people have a right to build a mosque.” Jim Riches, a former New York Fire Department deputy chief whose son, Jimmy, was killed at the trade center, believes the dispute has nothing to do with religious freedom.

“We’re not telling them not to practice their religion. … It’s about location, location, location,” he said, asking why the mosque couldn’t be built farther away from the land that he still considers a cemetery. “It’s disrespectful. You wouldn’t put a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor.”

Liza Murphy feels differently. Her brother, Charlie, died at ground zero, but she says she doesn’t lay claim to the sprawling, 16-acre site. “It’s a place where a terrible tragedy took place, but I don’t see what makes it sacred,” said the Brooklyn resident. “Nine years later, that now belongs to the public. And my brother and his death are private and belong to me.” Murphy says she has no objection to the planned mosque and wouldn’t want to judge one group of Muslims based on the actions of another.

But Peter Gadiel says he owes no apologies for singling one group out. Since his son, James, was killed at the trade center, Gadiel has argued publicly that all Muslims should share some collective guilt for what happened on 9/11.

“The fact is that Islam does not coexist well with other religions, and you can’t separate that from Islam,” the Kent, Conn., resident said, explaining his stand against the mosque. “If that sounds intolerant on my part, that’s too bad.” The families’ impassioned responses to the prospect of the mosque have influenced the public debate.

Gov. David Paterson has suggested moving the project further away from the trade center site out of respect for opponents’ feelings, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out in support of the mosque, calling it a test of the separation of church and state.
President Barack Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build the Islamic center as a matter of religious freedom, though he’s also said he won’t take a position on whether they should actually build it.

The imam leading plans for the center on Friday called extremism a security threat in both the West and the Muslim world. Feisal Abdul Rauf made his comments to Associated Press Television News in Bahrain during a Mideast tour funded by the U.S. State Department, but he wouldn’t discuss the uproar over the Islamic center.

Relatives of those slain on Sept. 11 have made their diverging voices heard on a number of issues over the years — from whether to try the suspects in a civilian court to the location of a proposed freedom museum at ground zero that is no longer planned for the site.

Charles Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, at the trade center, says emotions among family members are especially raw right now.
“This is anniversary season. It’s really, really hard,” the Manhattanite said. “Passions are up and this is bringing up a lot of hurt in people.”

He says he worries that any decision to respond to public pressure and move the mosque would be used by extremists to paint Americans as intolerant.

“The powers of evil were piloting those airplanes,” he said of the Sept. 11 attackers. Now, with the mosque dispute, “here is where we’re falling into the terrorists’ trap … trying to tear each other apart. Good people fighting other good people — does that sound like evil at work?”

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